It’s that time of the year again. Can you hear those sleigh bells jingling… no, neither can I, but I can hear cicadas chirruping, storm birds wailing and frogs croaking. That’s right, it’s summer, and Christmas is just around the corner.
My ideal festive lunch is a big meal made almost entirely with produce from my garden and kitchen. This year, I’m still getting things organised for the big day. Lettuces are fast growing during summer, as are leafy greens such as rocket. By planting out reasonably well-established seedlings and feeding them weekly with diluted fish emulsion, they’ll power along and be ready in time for Christmas lunch. I hope. If not, it’ll be a home grown New Year’s Eve!
Plants make lovely gifts. I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty over the years, and I’ve given lots as well. One thing I’ve learned is that it pays to only give plants to gardeners, or people who you know are serious about starting a garden. I hate seeing plants die, and there’s nothing worse than rocking up at a friends place in February, only to see a pot near the back door containing a thoroughly shrivelled Christmas present. By all means, give the gift of plants but do it thoughtfully.
Another gift suggestion for serious gardeners is a journal – in it they can record the weather, make notes about what was planted when, and scribble down ideas and plans for future projects.
Don't wait til later, however, to combat hungry wildlife (seeking to invade the garden in the hope of scoring a free meal of lush vegies or fruit). I’ve said it once, and I'll say it again, the best defense against marauding possums, rabbits, rats and birds is physical. That’s not to suggest you should go out in the night and crash tackle the wallaby eating your lettuces. Instead, fence them out, literally, and figuratively, using things like bird netting, low mesh barriers, and hoop tunnels made from wire. It doesn’t always look pretty, but excluding pests like this is highly effective.
Insect pests are a different kettle of fish, but it’s still possible to use the same concept. In my garden fruit fly is my major summer pest. It targets most of my fruiting plants, including 'vegies' such as tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants. Years ago I used baits to keep them in check, but with mixed results depending on the weather. Now, I 'fence' them out using fine weave netting, and specially designed paper bags that slip over ripening pieces of fruit to prevent the flies from laying the eggs through the skin.
Plants such as basil are fast growers, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll have planted a lovely big patch that’s pumping out leaves. The problem with fast growers is that they can soon start to produce flowers, reducing leaf production. To slow the process down, tip prune the plants regularly, then give them a liquid feed and a water. This encourages side branches to shoot, producing even more leaves. You can do the same with bushy herbs such as rosemary, thyme and oregano. Tip prune these and you’ll grow enough herbs to feed a small Italian village.
Chooks can suffer badly during summer, especially when the temperature rises above 30 degrees. Shade makes a big difference, so install some kind of structure in their run to keep the ground cool. I’ve got the proverbial mulberry tree growing in my coop, and it makes a big difference. It also helps to wet down the ground and use plants around their coop to provide an evaporative cooling effect. I do this two or three times per day during heatwave conditions, always avoiding the birds themselves, which can literally steam when soaked on a very hot day. It almost goes without saying that chooks should always have access to clean, cool water.
Have a happy and reflective Christmas everyone, and I’ll see you next year!
By: Justin Russell
First published: December 2017